I loved his long green coat, his black top hat, white gloves and matching stockings, and those red knickerbockers of his made me swoon. The 12-year-old me was so inspired by his golden waistcoat that I couldn’t wait to get one of my own. (The grownup me now has a collection of about 10 or so in various colors, textures, and patterns – including one with a golden silk back that I cherish).
To my preteen self, the Ramada Inn Man was definitely a catch. He had a great job, literally trumpeting the way to roadside lodging all over America. But the poor guy was not without issues: He had to stand all day and night on his tippy-toes in those Ben Franklin shoes (the ones with those big, square gold buckles). He had a bit of a belly – well, more than a bit – he was rounded all around the middle, which made his golden waistcoat and outer green coat pooch out, not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, it’s one of the features that endeared me to him right away. He was imperfect, approachable. (I hadn’t yet been indoctrinated into my tribe’s rigorous requirements for attractiveness – ie.: ‘perfection’ in every way – and which I would soon promptly discard as so much folderol.)
His wide, surprised eyes brightened his face; and distracted from his balding head, which shone proudly in the Lake Charles, Louisiana sun. And he was, clearly, not bothered by any of that, another endearing trait. He’d be called a “bear” these days and would probably fetch a pretty ‘Benjamin Franklin’ or two (to complement those fancy buckles, sans doubt) if he signed up as one of the “actors” on Rent-A-Trick, or some such website.
At night, he was washed in light from his sign’s neon tubes – in the same hues as the hotel building. When we moved to the Stone Motel in 1968, one of the first things that my little brain registered was that our motel, like the Ramadas and Holiday Inns we had visited on vacations over the years, had those neon lights all around (no fancily-dressed man up there on our sign, but what do you want from a country motel?).Up there on the sign, he is obviously taking a breath, after having just blown his magnificent golden trumpet, which holds up the red-carpet sign that reads “Ramada Inn Roadside Hotels.” With all that trumpeting, surely he must be hungry, but no worries: there’s a second sign that reads “RESTAURANT” right under the main sign.
As a kid, it was fun to be in a hotel room, to swim in a hotel swimming pool, and eat in the hotel restaurant. One visit to the restaurant at the Ramada stands out for me. We were all sitting at our table waiting on our breakfast (there was toast!) when a waiter walked by carrying a large glass dispenser that held what looked to be iced tea. Somehow, he tripped just a little as he walked, and the glass dispenser of tea went crashing to the floor, splattering tea all over the place. Everyone shrieked but no one was seriously injured. For the whole of breakfast, we were instead entertained by the cleanup process. I wondered if the waiter would be fired after he finished cleaning up the mess. He wasn’t there the next morning, so I figured that was the case. Poor fellow. Maybe he can get a job filling in for Ramada Man when he’s on vacation.
From the hotel room window, I could keep an eye on Ramada Man – he’d be up there glowing all night long. Sadly, my crush never came down from his sign. And though this was my first unrequited love affair, it would not be my last. (You’ll have to FOLLOW this blog to get the lowdown on all that in a future post).
PS: In 1976 the Ramada Inn chain killed off the Ramada Man. They also got rid of the trumpet and the carpet, and on their sad sad sad sign, replaced it all with a random squiggle in a circle. Oh, well. I still have my waistcoats.
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